Since the day she got the call regarding her parents, Mallory had been on auto-pilot. She had been briefly pulled out of it when the police questioned her. That had been a rude awakening, and she was concerned that there were people who thought she would have done something so vile.
She had to place a call to the office of her parent’s attorney. The last thing she wanted to deal with was the financial end of this situation. She was advised that their estate would cover the funeral as well as medical expenses incurred by the hospital. She just needed to send the invoices to the office, and they would take care of making the payments. The office informed her that there was a will, and they would arrange to read it the day after the funeral. She went ahead and asked if she could put the house up for sale since she knew she wasn’t being left anything but was told to hold off. She just wanted all of this to be over; no one seemed to understand the pain she was being subjected to by staying in this house. She was tempted to go to a hotel, but she could hear her father’s voice in the back of her head saying it would be wasting money.
She hung up the phone and tried to find things to do to occupy her time. She knew she should be doing something productive like cleaning their room out or packing up items for the Goodwill. But she could not bring herself to open the door to their room. By mid-afternoon, her concern over being bored was put to rest. The word had gotten out that she was home and that she had made the funeral arrangements. The obituary had been posted online, and now there was a steady stream of visitors stopping by the house.
The friends and neighbors of her parents wanted her to know that they were sorry for her loss, and they brought casseroles, soups, and meat and cheese trays. They would comment on how they had not seen her in years and that she was just a lovely as her mother. It was hard to hear these things, and it was just the beginning of the plastered on smile that would occupy her face for the next two days.
So many people had stopped by with food that the refrigerator could not hold it all. They were being overrun with food so John and Darby would covertly sneak food out the back door and delivered it to the homeless shelter. There was no way this food would be eaten, so it was better to share and keep it from going to waste.
At the end of the evening, Mallory was sitting on the couch staring at the darkened television. She was alone at the moment; Henry was taking a bath and getting ready for bed, and Darby and John were on the last food run of the night to the homeless shelter.
Her head was pounding; she had spent so much time talking to people and dealing with their grief she had not had a chance to eat. Now, it was too late in the day, and it would not be good to eat a meal and go straight to bed. She had taken a couple of ibuprofen and figured she would go to sleep after spending time with Henry when he came back downstairs.
She felt like a terrible mother; he was being pushed to the side while she dealt with this mess. He was very good-natured about it; after all, it meant he could spend time playing his video games and not get yelled at for it. But it hurt to think she was ignoring him; he was her only family, and she wanted the bond with him to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. She was so lost in thought that she did not hear him come downstairs.
“Hey, mom can I have some ice cream?”
She turned and looked over at him, “No, I think you have had enough to eat today. Come here and sit next to me.”
He was dejected, but he did what she asked, “You do know it works better to watch TV if you turn the TV on, right?”
She laughed and reached over to ruffle his hair, “Yes you dope I know that.” She could not help but smile at this boy. His dark blonde hair and brilliant blue eyes made him look like an angel; he was angelic, but there was something devious in his smile from time to time. “Hey, I am sorry that I have been running all around and haven’t spent a lot of time with you. I hope you aren’t mad at me.”
“Nah, I know you have stuff to deal with.”
“Okay, well I have a favor to ask. You didn’t know your grandparents so would you be upset if I said you don’t have to come to the funeral home or the funeral? I can’t imagine that you would want to be there.”
“No, that is okay with me but do you want me there for support?”
She smiled; this boy was so smart and thoughtful, and she didn’t know how she got so lucky. “Oh, baby that is so sweet of you to offer; I will be alright. Besides, if you were there no one would leave their hands off of you. They would just want to pinch those little cheeks.” She said as she playfully went for his cheeks.
“STOP!” He squealed as he tried to fend her off. His face was now flush and his laughter dissipating. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, what is it?”
He put his head on her shoulder and quietly asked, “Why didn’t I ever meet grandma and grandpa?”
Mallory’s heart sank; it was not a question she was anticipating, and she wasn’t sure how to answer. “Well, you will understand more when you are a grown-up; but they got mad at me when I was younger and told me not to come home.”
“They kicked you out?”
“Yeah baby, they did. We had an awful fight, and they told me to leave. So I moved to live with Aunt Mary in Atlanta. When you were born, I tried to see if they would let me come home and they wouldn’t let me. So that is why you never met them.” She attempted to give a very high-level account of the story because he didn’t need to know it all. However what she had told him had almost been enough to make her break.
“Do you think the still loved you?”
“I don’t think so, sweetie. It has made me sad from time to time when I have thought about it.”
Henry was quiet, and it was almost as if he was letting everything she had said sink in. “Are you going to stop loving me and make me move out?”
“Absolutely not! I love you to the moon and back, and I won’t stop, ever.”
The two continued to sit in silence for a few minutes longer. Finally, Henry sat up and declared that since he could not have ice cream he was going to bed. Mallory gave him a hug and a kiss and sent him on his way. She could feel her heart swell as she watched him bound up the steps.
~ * ~
Mallory was not looking forward to the day; she had no energy to move or to even will herself out of bed. It wasn’t the grief that was zapping her strength; it was the idea that she would have to put on a dog and pony show and pretend as if she was the grief-stricken daughter. The obituary listed her, but omitted Henry’s name; even in death, she was trying not to embarrass them. She knew they had never told their friends that they had a grandson, so she didn’t want to supply grist for the gossip mill after they were gone. She considered it her final gift to them; although they didn’t deserve the consideration.
The wake would begin at 3 pm, and she had to be there at 2 pm. It was customary that the immediate family is provided an hour of solitude to grieve before friends and family came to call. She had several hours to kill. She went ahead and got her shower out-of-the-way and then went downstairs to see what was going on. Molly was showing off her dance moves to the music on John’s phone while Darby made breakfast. As usual, Henry was on the tablet playing whatever game was keeping him occupied at the moment.
“Hey Darby,” Mallory whispered as she saddled up beside her at the stove, “Would you and John hate me if I told you that you didn’t have to come to the funeral home, and I wanted Henry to hang out with you?”
“Are you serious?” Darby asked, “Don’t you want us there for support?”
“I would love to have your support, but I don’t wish to answer a lot of questions about Henry,” she turned to see if he was listening she continued. “I think it will be hard enough to deal with people asking why I was never around but to explain that I have a son born six months after I left would be a little harder to deal with.”
“Oh, yeah I didn’t think of it like that. Sure, we can find something to do I’m sure.”
“Look, I will give you money to head into downtown. Maybe go to the aquarium or something that way you aren’t stuck in the house.”
“Well, I am sure there is something we can find to do. Henry is a history buff so being in Boston will give a good reason to get some learning in. I just want to make sure you are going to be okay going through it all day by yourself.”
Mallory didn’t answer; she just nodded to acknowledge she would be alright. She was glad that Darby was here for her, and it would be more important to have her at the end of the day when she got back. She was sure she would break down eventually, and Darby needed to be ready for that.
Following breakfast, Mallory spent time with Henry and told him stories about when she was a kid. She told him stories about climbing the trees in the backyard and playing outside until it was dark so they could catch fireflies. Even recounting how worried her parents had been when she fell down the front stairs; she had been running in her socks and slid on the freshly waxed risers of the stairs all the way down and hit the wall; she was all right, but the wall had a ding in it from her head.
It was time to leave, and she was not really ready.